Crucial couple of days for Boks as player availability assessed

Over the next couple of days the Springboks are set to to receive all-important medical feedback on the availability of key players affected by Covid-19 ahead of the first Test against the British & Irish Lions.

The likes of Handre Pollard, Makazole Mapimpi, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Siya Kolisi, Frans Steyn and Ox Nche are among a group of players who will desperate to prove their readiness for selection to face the Lions this Saturday.

However, the Covid-19 return-to-play protocols require stringent tests to be passed in order to ensure there is no long-term damage to players’ hearts or respiratory systems before being cleared for selection.

Following the SA A game on Saturday, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber addressed the potential availability of someone like Mapimpi and the other Boks who are recovering from Covid.

“It will depend on physical readiness and if he gets through his Covid protocols,” said Nienaber. “He’s got a race to get out of his quarantine and get a return to play [clearance], and then we must make a decision.

“Is he one of the guys that we have worked with? What is his conditioning and how does he train and where is he in terms of GPS stats?

“Then we must make an informed decision on that. There are some players who have been in our squad for 18 to 26 Test matches and obviously they have a good understanding of what we’re trying to do and how our system works. That will probably count for them.”

Meanwhile, the Boks are hoping veteran fullback Willie le Roux recovers in time from a hamstring strain.

“I spoke to Willie this [Saturday] morning and he said he feels fine,” said Nienaber. “We will have to reassess and get a medical on him and all the injuries from Wednesday and today.”

If Le Roux is unable to start at Cape Town Stadium on 24 July, it remains to be seen if the Boks would be willing to back Aphelele Fassi to take over the No 15 jersey.

“We wouldn’t have added Aphelele to the squad if we didn’t think he was good enough, but there are still a lot of things he needs to [work on],” Nienaber explained.

“It’s not because he’s not good enough, it’s just that it takes some getting used to the way we do things in our team and structures.

“The more he is in our environment, the more he will learn. He is definitely a proper talent for the future and I’m sure that if we had to press on his button, he’d be ready to go.”

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Craig Lewis